As you may know, Finland was the happiest country in the world for the fifth time in a row last year according to the World Happiness Report. Still, the results have been much criticized by us Finns as our relationship to happiness is quite complex. For example the most famous Finnish proverb on happiness says, “Kell onni on, se onnen kätkeköön.” Which means, “May the one who has happiness hide it.” There are many other sayings like that in Finnish where low key, modest enjoyment is emphasized.

However, we think more Finns would agree with the results of the World Happiness Report if the report stated more clearly that the ranking is based on measuring subjective well-being on three main well-being indicators: life evaluations, positive emotions, and negative emotions. 

The key variables explaining life evaluations include GDP per capita in terms of Purchasing Power Parity, healthy life expectancy, generosity, social support, freedom to make life choices and perceptions of corruption. The principal source of the data is the Gallup World Poll, which asks respondents to evaluate their current life as a whole using the mental image of a ladder. The best possible life is marked as a 10 and worst possible as a 0. Typically, around 1,000 responses are gathered annually for each country on this scale, referred to as the Cantril ladder. The rankings are based on a three-year average to provide more precise estimates with increased sample size.

The effect of positive emotions is given by the average of individual yes or no answers for three questions about emotions experienced or not on the previous day: laughter, enjoyment, and learning or doing something interesting. Equally, negative affect is given by the average of individual yes or no answers about three emotions experienced on the previous day: worry, sadness, and anger.

In light of this, Finland is a happy country. Yet, skepticism only proves that no matter how much we do in order for everyone to be happy on a societal level – no matter how great of a structure and system we have in place as a nation to support our citizens – it still in the end comes down to the individual. Whether we notice to appreciate what we have and not only complain about what we don’t have. Whether we know how to be happy. The outside forces and conditions can amplify our happiness to a certain degree. They cannot fully create it. Happiness is also an inside job and we create the feelings of happiness within, regardless of the outside forces.

On an individual level, being happy is a skill. Unfortunately, so far we’re not taught that skill in our basic studies, not even in Finland. At the moment, it’s everyone’s own responsibility to learn to practice happiness. Many don’t even realize this.

If we think that our happiness is dependent on outside forces, we become happiness hostages and usually such people use a lot of energy trying to control other people’s behaviors, outside conditions and outcomes of events and situations. Over time, they grow increasingly angry, frustrated and disempowered, as they continue to place their well-being dependent on outside forces. This does not apply only to Finns, but people in general.

Happiness in Finland, just like elsewhere too, is connected to family, health, friends and love. Also, in recent studies nature seems to be of particular importance for Finns. Experiencing nature in different ways, being in nature and bringing nature in in the form of plants, flowers and yes, pets. Nature is a source of finding peace and meaning. It is enjoyed with friends and family but also in solitude – experiencing silence and stillness on purpose. It is a place to find yourself, meditate, exercise and, whenever the weather permits, our forests are available freely for berry and mushroom picking as well. It is no wonder that in one study Finnish respondents described forests as their private sanctuary.Much in alignment, our ongoing study on what makes Finns happy and what happiness means to Finns, we’ve learned from over 750 answers that the most critical happiness factors in people’s lives are as described in the pictures to the right. 

What makes you happy?

“Happiness is not merely a result of success or high performance, but a precondition for it.”

— Finnish Happiness Research Association

In the same study we also asked the respondents why they think Finland is the happiest country in the world. The most common mentions were connected to the society supporting its citizens, to the ability to spend quality time with family and friends and to the role of nature in our everyday experience. There were also many mentions of the Finnish way of being modest, emphasizing honesty and being grateful for what is instead of constantly chasing after something bigger and better.What do you think makes Finland the happiest country?

Right now happiness and practicing it is more important than ever. In times of darkness, such as the dragging pandemic, economic instability, and war in Europe, it’s easy to start feeling a bit worn out and practicing happiness calls for conscious effort and resilience. Over time, they do however pay back. As research shows, happiness broadens and builds our capabilities, helps us see opportunities and makes us more resourceful. Thus happy people are often more creative and productive, have better health and are more helpful towards others. They also have a broader awareness and encourage novel, exploratory thoughts and actions. This furthermore builds useful skills and psychological resources to handle life’s adversities. As such, happiness is not merely a result of success or high performance, but a precondition for it.

While the happiness in Finland on a societal level has a lot to do with the political decisions aiming to build and maintain a wellbeing nation, which are more complex to influence, on an individual level we are able to take the mystery out of Finnish happiness. Here are five simple ways you can practice it in your everyday life.

 5 Tips for a Happier Life

1. Nature

According to research, moving in nature and just being in nature has many positive effects on health and well-being.

Being in nature, among other things, lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, improves mood, relaxes and refreshes us. In nature, experiencing positive emotions increases and unpleasant emotions decrease accordingly. Exercising in nature has also been found to reduce symptoms of depression.

2. Gratitude

Practicing gratitude daily has many positive effects! It boosts mental well-being, increases optimism and the feeling of happiness. It strengthens self-esteem, gives you more energy and decreases stress and anxiety.

You can start practicing happiness by focusing daily on one topic that you are grateful for in your life. As you practice this daily you begin to notice even more that you are grateful for! You do not need to make extra space in your everyday life to do this – you can feel and think of gratitude for example when you brush your teeth or wash your hands. In the evening you can ask yourself and your closest ones to name one thing that gave them joy today.

3. Self-compassion

We often catch ourselves being very critical of ourselves and it is something that we should pay more attention to. Self-criticism only increases stress and weakens the ability to function.

When we follow the news of war, high inflation and worry, our thoughts can easily wander and our ability to function can be low. You should be kind to yourself now. Give yourself time and talk to yourself gently and understandingly, “It’s natural to feel this way, at this moment I can’t do better than this”. You can also write yourself reminders on a post-it note that makes you feel good and encourages you.

4. Strengthening resilience

You have the innate ability to bounce back from challenging situations. It might be helpful to ask yourself how you have coped with difficult situations in the past. What kind of means helped you when the corona pandemic hit? How could you take advantage of those means now? 

5. Master the basics

In the middle of a crisis, it can be hard to sleep when things are running through your mind. A tired head produces threatening images, and then it is even more difficult to achieve peace of mind. In a situation like this it is more important than ever to master the basics, making sure you get enough sleep, focus on your nutrition and remember to keep yourself well hydrated at all times. When you take good care of the basic needs of your body it is a lot easier to maintain a peaceful, resourceful mind.

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